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Documenting Chukchi language: narratives and possible impulses on local art traditions


Language Chukchi (ISO639-3:ckt)
Depositor Erich Kasten
Affiliation Foundation for Siberian Cultures
Location Russian Federation
Collection ID 0640
Grant ID SG0603
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection documents Chukchi language that is spoken by sea mammal hunters and their families living along the northern coast of the peninsula. Particular emphasis is on documenting narratives that are expressed in walrus tusk carving. Beyond language documentation for further linguistic analysis, this combination of oral tradition recorded in indigenous language with prominent artistic traditions expressed in material culture aims at encouraging useful discourses within the given communities. These may contribute to preserving and enhancing this valuable part of the cultural heritage of the Chukchi people.

The project has been designed by Erich Kasten and the data collecting and processing by the language consultants Viacheslav Shadrin and Viktoriia Golbtseva will be organised by him, as well as the production of the final outcomes.


Group represented

English: The collection of recorded Chukchi language refers to Chukchi speakers living in or nearby Anadyr who have particular knowledge in sustainable resource use and who are involved in educational activities to sustain Chukchi language and culture.

Pусский: Коллекция записей чукотского языка относится к носителям чукотского языка, проживающим в Анадыре или поблизости от него, которые обладают особыми знаниями в области устойчивого использования ресурсов и участвуют в образовательной деятельности по поддержанию чукотского языка и культуры.


Language information

The Chukchi language belongs to the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family, and both languages are also called Luoravetlan (meaning „the real people“). It is spoken in the Chukotka autonomous district, Kamchatka krai, and Sakha (Yakutia) republic, whereas the focus for the given language documentation will be on Chukchi speakers from northern Chukotka. In contrast to Koryak, the Chukchi language does not reveal significant local variations where it is spoken in Chukotka. Though there are slight differences in the speech of reindeer herder groups and those who live along the coast, and some minor variations can be identified between speakers of certain locations.

The Chukchi language is endangered (grade 6b threatened, according to Ethnologue). According to the 2010 census, there are 5,100 Chukchi speakers from the total number of 15,900 ethnic Chukchi. This corresponds to 30% of the population, whereas already 50% would be an indicator of language endangerment. According to a most recent detailed study by the Institute for [Indigenous Language] Teachers Training (GAU DPO CHIROiPK) in Anadyr the drastic decline of Chukchi speakers becomes even more evident (see M.N. Tneskina, “Stoit li izuchat’ svoi rodnoi yazyk KMNSSiDV?”). Their number went down from 2,126 in 2013 to 1,183 in 2016. In addition to this alarming trend, the given number of Chukchi speakers must be more qualified, if one considers that this refers mainly to that part of the population of 50 years of age and above. They mostly use it while working in production teams that are related to traditional economic activities, but more rarely at home. One of the reasons for this has been the growing influx of other populations from abroad that leads to an increasing bilingualism with Russian. This effects the transmission of the Chukchi language to the young generation, with the result that there is a rapidly decreasing number of first language Chukchi speakers. Although efforts have being made to compensate for this by means of Chukchi language classes in kindergarten and at school, an erosion of the language in its full complexity can be foreseen, which would lead in the long run, or even in the near future, to its loss, if appropriate measures are not taken in good time.


Special characteristics

English: The collection contains valuable records of representatives of one of the last generations of Chukchi native speakers who still have special ecological knowledge in their language. This detailed knowledge is particularly relevant in light of current and future environmental crises in these areas due to climate change.

Another part of the records reflects efforts by the local community to transmit Chukchi linguistic and artistic traditions to the younger generation through special learning programs.

It is envisioned that print and online learning materials will be created from the records to further support these goals.

Pусский: Коллекция содержит ценные записи представителей одного из последних поколений носителей чукотского языка, которые до сих пор владеют специальными экологическими знаниями на своем языке. Эти подробные знания особенно актуальны перед лицом нынешнего и будущего экологического кризиса в этих районах в связи с изменением климата.

Другая часть записей отражает усилия местного сообщества по передаче и сохранению чукотских языковых и художественных традиций молодому поколению посредством специальных обучающих программ.

Планируется, что на основе записей будут созданы печатные и онлайновые учебные материалы для дальнейшего содействия достижению этих целей.


Collection contents

In its current version the corpus contains 11 hours and 34 minutes of recorded language use:
• (mostly) interviews with Chukchi speakers experienced in the traditional economies
• narratives on prominent Chukchi themes of their oral tradition
• Chukchi songs
• Commented Chukchi dance performances
• Comments of Chukchi carving art traditions


Collection history

English: These records complement collections on the Itelmen, Even and Koryak languages that Erich Kasten had already deposited earlier in ELAR. Unforeseen difficulties (covid-19 and Russia’s war against Ukraine) have significantly affected the implementation of this project, so that initially planned topics had to be re-focused.

Pусский: Эти записи дополняют коллекции по ительменскому, эвенскому и корякскому языкам, которые Эрих Кастен уже оставил в ELAR. Непредвиденные трудности (covid-19 и агрессивная война России против Украины) значительно затруднили реализациюэтого данного проекта, так что первоначально запланированные тематические направления пришлось пересмотреть.


Acknowledgement and citation

English: We are particularly grateful to Vlyadcheslav Shadrin from Yakutsk, who was able to carry out a major part of the recordings in Chukotka under difficult conditions.

Pусский: Мы особенно благодарны Владчеславу Шадрину из Якутска, который смог осуществить большую часть записи на Чукотке в сложных условиях.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Kasten, Erich. 2020. Chukchi narratives and possible impulses on local art traditions. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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